While there are certainly advantages to crossbreeding beef cattle, there are a few limitations that should also be kept in mind.
Using European or Bos indicus sires over British females increases the risk of calving difficulties. Research has demonstrated that the incidence of calving difficulty is doubled or tripled when European bulls are used in place of British breed bulls.
However, the problem can be minimised by matching bull to cow size and by appropriate cow nutrition.
The only sure way of minimising calving difficulty is to use proven bulls. A newly bought 2-year-old bull is an unknown quantity and he is usually the bull that is used over the heifers in the herd. However, when buying such bulls, the risk of calving difficulty can be minimised by buying from a herd on Group Breedplan and selecting a bull with low Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) for birthweight. Take note of the accuracy of that particular EBV; the higher the accuracy the more reliable the EBV is, because more of his relatives’ records have been analysed.
The decision to crossbreed sometimes increases the need for management input. Some crossbreeding systems require several breeding paddocks and some require that cows be identified by year of birth and breed of sire.
Most crossbreeding systems need a strong level of commitment because of the planning and extra management involved.
However, there are systems which require only one bull breed at a time, greatly simplifying management. A herd using a terminal sire of a second breed over straightbred cows requires no more management than a straightbred herd.
Difficulty in finishing crossbreds under tough conditions
If cattle will not finish under tough conditions then perhaps the breeds being used in the crossbreeding system are not suitable. A 50:50 British/ European will be later maturing than a 50:50 British/British and will require a longer period of time and more feed to fatten. Reducing the European content, or eliminating it altogether, may be necessary in certain environments.
Fear of market discrimination
There is very little discrimination against crossbred cattle now. If discrimination does occur, it is usually because the animal doesn’t have adequate fat cover or muscling rather than because it is crossbred.
In fact, some crossbreds are highly sort after. For example:
Gippsland bullock fatteners buy Simmental x Hereford steer weaners because they can turn these cattle off six months earlier, at heavier weights and leaner than the traditional British breeds.
Angus, Murray Grey and Hereford cross steers are sort after by feedlotters for both the domestic and Japanese markets.
Angus x Hereford and Simmental x Hereford females are in strong demand as replacement females for crossbreeding programs.
If a saleyard still discounts for colour, producers should consider selling direct to an abattoir, feedlot or CALM. It is unlikely that variation in colour will have any effect on price when selling by objective description.
Dairy crosses generally attract lower prices per kilogram than beef crosses. This is not simply because they are crossbred. It is because they lack muscle and so yield lower and, in the case of Jersey crosses, their fat is yellow and is disliked by consumers.
Crossbred cows eat more
Research has shown that crossbred cows do eat more but this is related to cow size and output rather than the fact that the cow is a crossbred.
A trial conducted at the Straun Research Centre Naracoorte, South Australia by M.P. Deland (1990) compared the efficiencies of a straightbred Hereford calf and crossbred calves out of Jersey x Hereford (JxH) and Simmental x Hereford (SxH) mothers mated to Charolais bulls (C).
The trial was carried out at two stocking rates.
The small Jersey x Hereford mother mated to the Charolais bull was the most efficient beef producer at both stocking rates.
The Simmental x Hereford mother was the second most efficient and the straight Hereford the least efficient converter of feed to calf weight.
This demonstrates the advantage of the crossbred female, small maternal size and the use of a larger terminal sire breed.